Appearance Alert
MRC's Bozell to appear on FNC's 'Kelly File' at 9:40pm ET

Networks Pounce on Opportunity to Hype "Downing Street Memo" --6/8/2005


1. Networks Pounce on Opportunity to Hype "Downing Street Memo"
Enabled by a question posed at Tuesday afternoon's press conference at the White House with President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, MSNBC's Countdown, with Keith Olbermann making it his lead item, and CNN's NewsNight all jumped on a cause celebre of the left, the so-called "Downing Street memo." NBC's David Gregory described it as "a rallying cry for war critics" which "claims that in July 2002, the President had already decided to go to war and claims, quote, 'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.'" CNN anchor Aaron Brown boosted the credibility of the memo as he asserted that "even if we aren't exactly sure how the intelligence service and the administration got it so wrong" on Iraq, "one answer comes in the so-called 'Downing Street memo' written by a British intelligence official who says the WMD threat was deliberately exaggerated to sell the war. Neither the President nor the British Prime Minister would acknowledge that, how could they?"

2. ABC Stresses Disapproval of Bush, But Approval Only Down 1 Point
Both ABC's Good Morning America and World News Tonight highlighted how a new ABC News/Washington Post poll found, as Charles Gibson touted at the top of Tuesday's GMA, 52 percent disapprove of President Bush's "work overall, and that's the most, the highest negatives that the President has gotten in 75 polls conducted by ABC News since the beginning of his presidency." Anchoring World News Tonight, Gibson stressed how "there is troubling news for President Bush in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll: 52 percent of Americans disapprove of the President's job performance. That's the highest disapproval rating for Mr. Bush since he took office." But as the June 8 Washington Post article on the poll noted, "Bush's 48 percent job approval rating was essentially unchanged from the 47 percent rating he received in a late-April poll." George Stephanopoulos came aboard to point out how "nearly six in ten Americans" now say "that they don't think the Iraq War was worth fighting, 58 percent, a record high."

3. CNN's Schneider Endorses Accuracy of Hillary Clinton Slam at Bush
CNN's Bill Schneider on Tuesday morning endorsed the accuracy of an anti-Bush talking point spouted by Senator Hillary Clinton. On American Morning, co-host Soledad O'Brien played a clip of Clinton charging that "the President has two principle financial priorities: the tax cuts for the wealthiest among us and funding the war in Iraq" and that Bush is "the first President in history that took us to war and cut taxes at the same time." She then asked Schneider: "Okay, she sounds strong. Is she wrong or right?" Schneider opined: "Well, I think she's right."


Networks Pounce on Opportunity to Hype
"Downing Street Memo"

NBC Enabled by a question posed at Tuesday afternoon's press conference at the White House with President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, MSNBC's Countdown, with Keith Olbermann making it his lead item, and CNN's NewsNight all jumped on a cause celebre of the left, the so-called "Downing Street memo." NBC's David Gregory described it as "a rallying cry for war critics" which "claims that in July 2002, the President had already decided to go to war and claims, quote, 'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.'" CNN anchor Aaron Brown boosted the credibility of the memo as he asserted that "even if we aren't exactly sure how the intelligence service and the administration got it so wrong" on Iraq, "one answer comes in the so-called 'Downing Street memo' written by a British intelligence official who says the WMD threat was deliberately exaggerated to sell the war. Neither the President nor the British Prime Minister would acknowledge that, how could they?"

At the 4:45pm EDT event carried live by CNN, FNC and MSNBC, a U.S. reporter named "Steve," most likely Steve Holland of the British-owned Reuters, asked: "On Iraq, the so-called 'Downing Street memo' from July 2002 says 'intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy of removing Saddam through military action.' Is this an accurate reflection of what happened? Could both of you respond?"

As tracked by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, how the networks jumped on the topic Tuesday night, June 7:

-- CBS Evening News. Bill Plante picked up on the subject after noting what the two agreed to on African debt relief:
"Today's meeting was the first for the two allies since Blair's re-election, which was dominated by criticism of his support for the Iraq War. Mr. Bush responded for the first time today to this memo [graphic with pieces of paper], which surfaced a month ago just before Election Day in Britain, and shows that Blair knew early on that the President wanted war. Summarizing a briefing in July 2002 for Blair and top officials by the head of British intelligence almost eight months before the war began, the memo says that [with the text on screen] 'military action was now seen as inevitable,' that 'Bush wanted to remove Saddam, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD,' and the 'intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.'"
George W. Bush at the press conference: "There's nothing farther from the truth. My conversations with the prime minister was, 'How could we do this peacefully?'"
Plante concluded, from the White House lawn, with another shot at Bush: "On global warming, the President would agree only that it needs to be dealt with, this on a day when scientists in major nations called for a cutback in greenhouse gas emissions. And one of them, from Britain, said that Mr. Bush's climate policy was misguided."


-- NBC Nightly News. Anchor Brian Williams intoned: "In Washington today, President Bush and Tony Blair came face-to-face. The official agenda, help for developing nations in Africa. But afterwards when they took questions from the press, the subject quickly turned to Iraq and a controversial memo about the invasion. NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory with us tonight from the White House. David, good evening."
Gregory began with the memo: "Good evening, Brian. You're right. Mr. Blair came to the White House facing more questions about the intelligence that led to war. This was the first meeting between the British Prime Minister and President Bush since Mr. Blair narrowly won a third term last month. His support for the Iraq War cost his Labour Party in the polls. Today, the Prime Minister denied that the White House twisted intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs in a rush to war."
Tony Blair, at press conference: "All the way through that period of time, we were trying to look for a way of managing to resolve this without conflict."
Gregory: "Mr. Blair was answering a charge from a 2002 memo summarizing a prewar briefing given the Prime Minister by his intelligence chief. The so-called 'Downing Street memo,' now a rallying cry for war critics, claims that in July 2002, the President had already decided to go to war and claims, quote [text on screen], 'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.' In an interview for tomorrow's Today show, Mr. Blair told Katie Couric the intelligence was used in, quote, 'good faith.'"
Blair, to Couric: "We knew there was a serious, post-September 11th, we knew we had to take a different attitude to WMD. The place to start was Iraq, the thing to do was to enforce U.N. resolutions. And that's what we went out to do."
George W. Bush, at press conference: "We worked hard to see if we could figure out how to do this peacefully, to put a united front up to Saddam Hussein and say the world speaks, and he ignored the world."
Gregory then moved on: "The major focus of today's meeting was hunger and poverty in Africa. The two leaders announced plans to eliminate all debt for reform-minded African governments. And the U.S. pledged nearly $700 million in immediate famine relief to countries in the horn of Africa. But Mr. Blair wanted much more in African aid and is now under pressure to get from the United States the kind of political support he provided during the Iraq War."


-- MSNBC's Countdown led with the memo. Keith Olbermann teased: "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? The President and the Prime Minister: Together again and not for the first time. Planned topic: hunger in Africa. Unplanned topics: Iraq and the 'Downing Street memo.'"

Olbermann set up his top topic: "Good evening. June 7th may be the most under-celebrated anniversary in our history, the foremost holiday that never was. It was June 7th, and thus 229 years ago today on which Richard Henry Lee stood up in the Continental Congress and introduced a resolution that proposed that the colonies should declare their independence from England.
"Our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, odd that this would be the day England's prime minister would come here intending to push a joint bid to forgive African debt and to address global warming, but wind up joining President Bush in having to address instead the so-called 'Downing Street memo.' Of course, they are all Downing Street memos where he comes from. If you have missed it -- and many have -- it was a set of leaked notes from a British Cabinet meeting in July 2002 indicating the U.S. was already trying to make the crime fit the punishment, already finding excuses, it said, to go to the war in Iraq."
Tony Blair: "No one knows more intimately the discussions that we were conducting as two countries at the time than me, and the fact is we decided to go to the United Nations and went through that process, which resulted in the November 2002 United Nations resolution to give a final chance to Saddam Hussein to comply with international law. He didn't do so. And that was the reason why we had to take military action."
George W. Bush clip #1: "Somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to use military force to deal with Saddam. There's nothing farther from the truth. My conversations with the Prime Minister was, 'How could we do this peacefully?'"
Bush clip #2: "Both of us didn't want to use our military. Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It's the last option."
Olbermann: "Jim Vandehei was at today's news conference. He, of course, the Washington Post White House correspondent, and he joins us now....This was the first time the President had addressed this 'Downing Street memo,' and the answer had something of what the math people call a tautology to it. Of course we didn't decide to go to war in July before we went to the UN, we didn't even go to the UN until November. Will that answer wash in Washington?"
Jim Vandehei, Washington Post: "Right, this is the first time that he's had to address this issue. The more these two guys try to get away from the issue of Iraq, the more they have to deal with it, and this issue of the Downing Street Memo was a huge issue in England and a big issue in the Prime Minister's reelection. For some reason, it has not been a huge issue in the United States. The Washington Post has written about it several times, but we've not heard a lot about it, and I think the big reason is, is that people have already made their decision on whether they feel like Bush manipulated information to go to war or did not."


-- CNN's NewsNight. About mid-way through his hour, Aaron Brown announced: "Long ago the principal argument for the war, weapons of mass destruction, proved wrong. They didn't exist. Everyone knows that now, even if we aren't exactly sure how the intelligence service and the administration got it so wrong. One answer comes in the so-called 'Downing Street memo' written by a British intelligence official who says the WMD threat was deliberately exaggerated to sell the war. Neither the President nor the British Prime Minister would acknowledge that, how could they? But the memo is out there, along with the two allies today, side by side by side. Reporting tonight for us, CNN's Bill Schneider."

Schneider: "It was the summit of the survivors, two leaders who got reelected despite voter backlash against the war in Iraq."
President Bush: "Congratulations on your great victory."
Schneider: "The main topic for the meeting was aid to Africa, but Iraq was on the agenda in three tenses: past, present, and future. A reporter asked the two leaders about the so-called 'Downing Street memo.' In July, 2002, eight months before the war, a British foreign policy aide reported to Blair and his cabinet what a British intelligence official had concluded after visiting Washington.
"The memo, recently leaked to the British press, said [text on screen]: 'Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy.' Mr. Blair denied the allegations."
Prime Minister Blair: "No, the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all."
Schneider: "Mr. Bush insinuated that leaking the memo was a political dirty trick done to embarrass Blair."
Bush: "You know, I read the characterizations of the memo, particularly when they dropped it out in the middle of his race. I'm not sure who they dropped it out is. I'm not suggesting that you all dropped it out there."
Schneider: "So, was the memo incorrect or fraudulent? We're left with a conflict. It comes down to who you believe."
Blair: "And yet it is absolutely vital for the security, not just of that country and of that region, but of the world that we succeed in Iraq."
Schneider asserted: "There are growing doubts in both countries. In early February, just after the Iraqi election, Americans were divided over whether it was worth going to war in Iraq. By May, with a continuing insurgency and mounting U.S. casualties, American public opinion had turned negative. [on screen graphic for CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showing "worth it" dropping from 48 to 41 percent]. By April, the British people had turned against the war by nearly two-to-one [MORI poll, 61 percent "no" on Iraq war]."
Bush: "Our strategy is clear. We're training Iraqi forces so they can fight -- take the fight to the enemy, so they can defend their country and then our troops will come home with the honor they have earned."
Schneider: "The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently visited Iraq. He said Sunday on ABC's This Week:"
Senator Joe Biden on This Week: "We have to stop misleading the American public so we don't lose their confidence, tell them it's going to take more time. Tell them it's able to be done, but tell them the truth."
Schneider vacuously concluded: "What's happening in Iraq, once again, seems elusive, in the past, at present, and in the future."

ABC Stresses Disapproval of Bush, But
Approval Only Down 1 Point

Both ABC's Good Morning America and World News Tonight highlighted how a new ABC News/Washington Post poll found, as Charles Gibson touted at the top of Tuesday's GMA, 52 percent disapprove of President Bush's "work overall, and that's the most, the highest negatives that the President has gotten in 75 polls conducted by ABC News since the beginning of his presidency." Anchoring World News Tonight, Gibson stressed how "there is troubling news for President Bush in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll: 52 percent of Americans disapprove of the President's job performance. That's the highest disapproval rating for Mr. Bush since he took office." But as the June 8 Washington Post article on the poll noted, "Bush's 48 percent job approval rating was essentially unchanged from the 47 percent rating he received in a late-April poll." George Stephanopoulos came aboard to point out how "nearly six in ten Americans" now say "that they don't think the Iraq War was worth fighting, 58 percent, a record high."

With a margin of error of three percent, a one point move is hardly significant.

For the June 8 Washington Post story on the survey: www.washingtonpost.com

Gibson teased the June 7 GMA: "In other news this morning, America's sharply divided over President Bush. There's a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, 52 percent now disapproving of his work overall, and that's the most, the highest negatives that the President has gotten in 75 polls conducted by ABC News since the beginning of his presidency. We'll have details on that ahead."

In fact, the MRC's Jessica Barnes noticed, those "details" amounted to this short item read, in the lead news update, by Robin Roberts: "Most Americans do not approve of the way the President is handling the war in Iraq. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll says 58 percent disapprove, and more than half of those polled gave Mr. Bush a thumb's down on his overall job performance -- that's the lowest rating of his presidency."

On screen graphics showed 58 percent disapproving how Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, versus 41 percent who approve and Bush's disapprove/approve at 52 versus 48 percent.

Nearly 12 hours later, Gibson was back on World News Tonight:
"There is troubling news for President Bush in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll: 52 percent of Americans disapprove of the President's job performance. That's the highest disapproval rating for Mr. Bush since he took office. So we turn to the host of ABC's This Week, George Stephanopoulos. George, the other numbers for the President also bad, including diminishing support for the war in Iraq."
Stephanopoulos explained: "And that is the single biggest anchor on the President's job approval rating right now, Charlie. You also have a record, nearly six in ten Americans saying now that they don't think the Iraq War was worth fighting, 58 percent, a record high. They think the casualties are too high. They think we're bogged down, and, basically, Americans five months after the Iraqi elections are watching the news and listening to the President who says we're going to be there for a long time. And they don't like it."
Gibson: "So, A, why does the White House think this is happening? And B, other than Iraq, and B, are they worried about it?"
Stephanopoulos: "Well, they have to be worried about it because, Charlie, the President's agenda, in the second term, the fifth year is key in getting your agenda through Congress. The President has big plans. Number one, Social Security. The public's not buying that either -- 62 percent don't approve [34 percent do] of the President's handling of Social Security right now. And the clock is ticking. He knows he has to get that done this summer if it's going to get done in his second term."

CNN's Schneider Endorses Accuracy of
Hillary Clinton Slam at Bush

CNN's Bill Schneider on Tuesday morning endorsed the accuracy of an anti-Bush talking point spouted by Senator Hillary Clinton. On American Morning, co-host Soledad O'Brien played a clip of Clinton charging that "the President has two principle financial priorities: the tax cuts for the wealthiest among us and funding the war in Iraq" and that Bush is "the first President in history that took us to war and cut taxes at the same time." She then asked Schneider: "Okay, she sounds strong. Is she wrong or right?" Schneider opined: "Well, I think she's right."

Just before 8:30am EDT on the June 7 American Morning, the MRC's Ken Shepherd noticed, O'Brien announced: "Still to come this morning, Hillary Clinton unloads on President Bush and the Republicans, does this mean she's tipped her hand about a run for the White House? That's ahead on American Morning."

A few minutes later, O'Brien, in Manhattan, set up a segment with Schneider in Washington, DC: "Well, New York Senator Hillary Clinton has opened her re-election campaign with a slam at Republicans and the Bush administration."
Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), in speech, with a "Hillary for Senate" placard in front of her: "There has never been an administration, I don't believe in our history, more intent upon consolidating and abusing power to further their own agenda than the current administration."
O'Brien: "CNN senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, in Washington in this morning. Hey, Bill, good morning. Nice to see you. Wow. What about a different tone here? I mean, if you consider that compared to just a couple of months ago, where she sounded very conciliatory, really moderate in her remarks."
Schneider affirmed: "Yeah, this sounds like a new new Hillary. You know, Howard Dean has been making tough remarks like this, and some Democrats, like Joe Biden and John Edwards, have been distancing themselves from Dean. It will be interesting to see if some of them try to distance themselves from this new tough talk line from Senator Clinton."
O'Brien: "I mean, she really, basically, called Republicans liars. I mean, here's a clip, here's a chunk."
Clinton: "It is very hard to stop people who have never been acquainted with the truth. It is very hard, [audience applauds loudly, drowning out her words] that, they must think about the country's future, not just their own partisan political advantage."
O'Brien: "Not exactly mincing words there."
Schneider: "No."
O'Brien: "This is all about strategy, obviously, so let's talk about that. I mean, is this, essentially, a clear sign she's running for the White House in 2008?"
Schneider: "Oh, look, she's got to be re-elected senator for New York for a second term first. New York is a very Democratic, fairly liberal state. Look, and the view of Democrats, they're very angry right now. And she's reflecting that. And Bush looks very vulnerable right now, so there's an opportunity here for Democrats. And remember something else. If she does decide to run for president -- her husband made an interesting remark at the end of 2002, after the Democrats fared poorly in that midterm. He said 'strong and wrong beats weak and right.' Which I think he would also argue is an analysis of what happened last year in the presidential election. In other words, you have to prove that you're strong before people are going to listen to you.
Schneider: "Well, Hillary Clinton, if she does decide to run for president, is going to have to demonstrate she's strong, she's tough, particularly because every president has to meet the test of commander-in-chief. And I think that's what she's trying to do."
O'Brien: "Okay, so if she's talking tough to prove she's strong, let's listen to what she said about the deficit."
Clinton: "You know, the President has two principle financial priorities: the tax cuts for the wealthiest among us and funding the war in Iraq. And, of course, it's inconvenient -- it's another one of these inconvenient facts that he's the first president in history that took us to war and cut taxes at the same time."
O'Brien: "Okay, she sounds strong. Is she wrong or right?"
Schneider endorsed Clinton's spin: "Well, I think she's right. That point has been made. But Democrats have to do that very carefully, because when they say first President in history to raise taxes and go to war at the same -- rather to cut taxes and go to war at the same, Republicans say, ah-ha, there's a Democrat who wants to raise your taxes. So Democrats feel very inhibited about making that critique. She doesn't feel so inhibited, in part because there's a very sour mood in the United States right now. People are becoming anxious about what's happening in Iraq. They don't see the light at the end of the tunnel. They hear news of the insurgency day after day and they feel the economy is very sour. So I think this is a moment when it's safe for a Democrat to make that comment, that criticism."
O'Brien wondered: "For those who think that, in fact, Hillary Clinton will run for President in 2008 -- I know we're jumping ahead a little bit here -- what are her chances of winning, realistically?"
Schneider: "Look, I've been in this business long enough to know that under the right circumstances, just about anybody can get elected. I've seen too many people who were called unelectable like Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter get elected. Sure, she can be elected. I mean, this would be the first time you have a serious woman nominee, if she wins the nomination. There would be unusual hurdles. Her husband was president. How are people going to deal with that? What would his role be? But if people are fed up, if they're angry, if they're tired, if they really want a change, I'm not going to say her chances are not good. The problem is a lot of Democrats believe she can't win and they've said so directly, outrightly. And she has to cope with that, as well."

-- Brent Baker